Arts and Entertainment | Analysis
November 10, 2017 at 6:00 AM
Late Thursday night, Taylor Swift’s sixth studio album, “Reputation,” was officially unleashed on the world.
In the last decade, Swift has gone from Nashville songwriting prodigy to one of the most powerful pop stars on the planet, and she has a lot of complicated feelings about her fame. Last year, Swift had a rough time in the public eye as she battled celebrity feuds and relationship drama. As the album title signals, it all had quite an effect on her life.
In the introduction from the “Reputation” liner notes, Swift — who spent most of 2017 out of the spotlight — spelled out the theme of the record: “We think we know someone, but the truth is that we only know the version of them they have chosen to show us.”
So taking that at face value, here’s a rundown of every track on the much-anticipated album — what Swift has decided to show us, and what she could be saying between the lines.
1) “ … Ready For It?” (written by Taylor Swift, Max Martin, Shellback, Ali Payami)
The lyrics indicate a romantic relationship (“In the middle of the night, in my dreams, you should see the things we do”), but the bonkers music video features a fight between two Swifts: an evil, smirking robot dressed all in black, and a cyborg trapped in a glass cage. Eventually, trapped cyborg Swift defeats robot Swift.
Swift helpfully “liked” some posts on Tumblr written by fans who tried to analyze the song. According to one theory, the song “illuminates how media/society have so tirelessly tried to absolutely sabotage Taylor Swift’s soul, ravage her kind disposition and quite overtly vandalize her reputation.”
2) “End Game” feat. Ed Sheeran and Future (written by Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, Future, Max Martin, Shellback)
Perhaps the most direct track about how the world sees her (“Big reputation, big reputation, ohh you and me, we got big reputations … you heard about me, oh, I got some big enemies.”), Swift raps with Future and her close pal, Ed Sheeran.
Swift sings one telling verse by herself: “I bury hatchets, but I keep maps of where I put ’em/reputation precedes me, they told you I’m crazy/I swear I don’t love the drama, it loves me.” This acknowledges her penchant for feuds and grudges (whether against Katy Perry for backup dancer poaching; against Kanye West for calling her a “b‑‑‑‑” in a song; or against Kim Kardashian West for releasing that infamous phone call recording). And she forgets nothing.
3) “I Did Something Bad” (written by Taylor Swift, Max Martin, Shellback)
This song is full of contradictions, as Swift says people are accusing her of doing something bad — and even though that thing “felt so good,” she still did nothing wrong: “They’re burning all the witches, even if you aren’t one/They got their pitchforks and proof, their receipts and reasons.” She dramatically accepts her fate. “So light me up.”
She also puts “playboys” and “narcissists” on blast for manipulating her. No worries, she says — because she manipulates them first: “I play ’em like a violin, and I make it look oh so easy.”
4) “Don’t Blame Me” (written by Taylor Swift, Max Martin, Shellback)
A track about a very intense relationship (“For you, I would cross the line, I would waste my time, I would lose my mind”) she throws gossip enthusiasts a bone by referencing her older celebrity boyfriends: “I’ve been breaking hearts a long time and toying with them older guys.” Swift has been vocal about this theme since her country music days with “Dear John,” a not-so-veiled tale about her relationship with John Mayer and their 12-year age gap.
5) “Delicate” (written by Taylor Swift, Max Martin, Shellback)
The first line delves right into Swift’s tough year. “My reputation’s never been worse, so you must like me for me,” she sings. She doesn’t go into detail, and the track is more about the obsessive days of a new relationship: “Is it cool that I said all that? Is it too soon to do this yet? ‘Cause I know that it’s delicate …”
6) “Look What You Made Me Do” (written by Taylor Swift, Jack Antonoff, Fred Fairbrass, Richard Fairbrass, Rob Manzoli)
As the first single released from the album in August, the Internet figured out that the “little games” and “tilted stage” lines were about West. As Swift declares that the “old Taylor” is “dead,” she seethes with vengeance: “The world moves on, another day, another drama, drama/But not for me, not for me, all I think about is karma.”
The music video also mocks her critics, and she preemptively makes fun of herself for everything that she knows people say about her — that she’s not really that nice, she loves to play the victim, etc.
7) “So It Goes …” (written by Taylor Swift, Max Martin, Shellback, Oscar Görres)
“Taylor Swift Sheds Her Good Girl Image on ‘Reputation,’ ” one review of the album enthused as critics grappled with Swift’s “edgier” lyrics, some of which appear on this song: “You know I’m not a bad girl but I do bad things with you” and “dressed in black now … scratches down your back now.” This track hints that it’s about the same person as the one featured in “Gorgeous,” as both tunes reference meeting someone in a bar. Which leads us to …
8) “Gorgeous” (written by Taylor Swift, Max Martin, Shellback)
At her “secret sessions,” where Swift played the album early for fans, the pop star allegedly told listeners that “if anyone made any accusations of who this song is about we tell them it is 100 percent about her angel boyfriend of one year.” For those unaware, that would be British actor Joe Alwyn, though the two have been virtually invisible in public. (Apparently that’s intentional, after her much-photographed romance with Tom Hiddleston caused much mockery and a worldwide frenzy.)
Anyway, this song is about someone who is so attractive that it’s hard to look at them, especially if you’re worried they don’t feel the same attraction: “You’ve ruined my life by not being mine.”
9) “Getaway Car” (written by Taylor Swift and Jack Antonoff)
“A circus ain’t a love story, and now we’re both sorry … we’re both sorry,” Swift says in this tune about a relationship doomed from the start. Could this be about the “Hiddleswift” situation, which indeed turned into a media circus?
10) “King of My Heart” (written by Taylor Swift, Max Martin, Shellback)
“All the boys in their expensive cars with their Range Rovers and their Jaguars/Never took me quite where you do,” Swift sings as she chronicles a glorious love story after a lot of bad ones. “You are the one I have been waiting for/King of my heart, body and soul.”
Is it a coincidence that she was photographed with Calvin Harris (with whom she had an unfortunate breakup) in a Range Rover and Hiddleston in a Jaguar? If you don’t know the answer to that question, we’re not sure why you’re even reading this.
11) “Dancing With Our Hands Tied” (written by Taylor Swift, Max Martin, Shellback, Oscar Görres)
The song kicks off with a mention of someone who is 25 years old, Alwyn’s age when they met, so take from that what you will. Here, Swift seems to worry that the massive attention on her relationships could ruin everything again, but then reasons that their love is so intense that it won’t matter: “I loved you in spite of deep fears that the world would divide us/So baby can we dance, oh through an avalanche.”
12) “Dress” (written by Taylor Swift and Jack Antonoff)
Listeners at the secret sessions report that Swift’s parents were extremely uncomfortable while listening to this very intimate song: “I’m spilling wine in the bath tub, you kiss my face and we’re both drunk … I don’t want you like a best friend, only bought this dress so you could take it off.”
13) “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” (written by Taylor Swift and Jack Antonoff)
This track is already drawing the most attention, probably because it most directly addresses the Kanye situation. “It was so nice throwing big parties, jump into the pool from the balcony/Everyone swimming in a champagne sea,” Swift sings in the beginning, confirming that her famous July 4 parties are as extravagant as you would imagine.
Then things take a turn: “Why’d you have to rain on my parade?” she asks. A few weeks after her July 4, 2016, party, Kim Kardashian West leaked a recording of a conversation between Swift and West that painted Swift as a liar. “Friends don’t try to trick you, get you on the phone and mind-twist you,” Swift sings. She adds, “It was so nice being friends again/There I was giving you a second chance, but you stabbed me in the back while shaking my hand,” a reference to how they mended fences after the 2009 VMAs incident.
14) “Call It What You Want” (written by Taylor Swift and Jack Antonoff)
Back to a love story — or, specifically, about someone who loves her even as her reputation took a hit, and alludes to her time out of the public view: “My castle crumbled overnight, I brought a knife to a gunfight, they took the crown but it’s alright/All the liars are calling me one, nobody’s heard from me for months — I’m doing better than I ever was.”
15) “New Year’s Day” (written by Taylor Swift and Jack Antonoff)
For an album that reflects on such a dark time period, it ends on a message of hope. “I want your midnights/But I’ll be cleaning up bottles with you on New Year’s Day,” Swift sings. It also hits on an earlier Swift songwriting theme, which is an intense need to remember everything: “Hold on to the memories, they will hold onto you.”